A new film narrated by Roger Waters, The Occupation of the American Mind, traces the rise of Israeli war propaganda in the United States. This propaganda, which has skillfully swayed U.S. public opinion in support of Israeli wars and occupations, has in fact been not so much a matter of skill as a matter of control.
The U.S. corporate media has obeyed the Israeli propaganda office, because the U.S. government has done so, and the U.S. corporate media generally obeys the U.S. government. How much the U.S. government’s stance is shaped by its own independent, albeit perverse, interests, and how much by Israeli propagandizing and corruption is one question. But the U.S. corporate media’s lockdown on criticism of Israeli wars is only a slight variation on its coverage of U.S. wars.
What happens when you take the control away? When young people in the United States get their news from the internet and foreign media, their support for Israeli wars and occupations plummets. Backers of Israeli wars find it necessary to start trying to ban criticism on U.S. college campuses. Just as young people have overwhelmingly backed Bernie Sanders despite corporate media opposition, those who avoid the corporate media are able to back justice for Palestinians (and often to a much greater extent than Sanders does).
When informed people in the United States hear about international opposition to Israeli crimes, they are hardly shocked, and might just yawn. But Fox News reports shock, outrage, and disbelief in its staff:
“You can’t make it up. UN names democratic Israel as world’s top human rights violator”!
Fox wants enemies, and thus reports in this way on a story that much of the U.S. media will likely ignore or downplay. If most corporate media consumers in the United States learned that Israel was viewed by the world as a top abuser of human rights, they would react approximately like Fox News.
One of the great services that The Occupation of the American Mind provides is that it shows us footage of news coverage of Israeli wars in the United States and, in great contrast, in Europe. In Europe we see Palestinian voices included, and we see false claims questioned by tough grilling of Israeli officials. In the United States we see top U.S. officials of both political parties, and top media figures parroting over and over again the same exact words dictated by Israeli propagandists or their U.S. advisers.
This film is good for beginners who’ve never escaped their televisions before, in that it provides a basic history of Zionism and the Nakba. But it quickly turns to a particular subject that should intrigue the better informed as well, namely the rise of Israeli propaganda since 1982. We see footage of U.S. network TV news readers reporting honestly and straightforwardly on Israeli bombing of Lebanon, and on Israeli facilitated massacres in refugee camps — and showing footage of the carnage.
In 1984 the American Jewish Congress held a meeting in Jerusalem on “hasbara” (propaganda, war lies) chaired by a U.S. advertiser who had made “tastes great / less filling” ads for Miller Light beer. In 2009 Frank Luntz produced the Israel Project’s 2009 Global Language Dictionary. These efforts are not kept secret. In fact, a television show in Israel similar to Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” is called “The Ambassador,” and it challenges contestants to do the best job of selling Israeli war crimes as being justified or admirable. The acceptance of such a show is itself terrific hasbara, of course, as it suggests that concocting excuses for killing people is justifiable and admirable.
The central lie of Israeli war propaganda is also the most effective lie in the United States and the focus of the first chapter of my book War Is A Lie, namely the lie that wars are defensive. Just as the U.S. corporate media engages in blowback denial with September 11 or Brussels, it tells us that Palestinian resistance is spontaneous irrational aggression, unprovoked and inexplicable except by understanding Palestinians as less than human. In the U.S. corporate media, the Palestinians always started it, and Israel is always acting in defense, even when it’s aggressively bombing civilians as it was doing in 1982 when U.S. media voices had not yet been properly trained.
The undercurrent to the “defense” lies is the justification of revenge, which threads through all war propaganda, even that for U.S. wars, which has often tended in recent years to emphasize a lie of “humanitarianism” in which a war that is also supposedly defensive and a last resort is somehow also a benefit to people it is rescuing. Israel has not used that line, and it’s worth noting that the U.S. government has found it ineffective in reaching more than a sliver of the U.S. population.
It would be humorous if it weren’t so blood-soaked to watch U.S. politicians and pundits parrot specific Israeli military talking points over and over. The 1988 Hamas Charter, long since disavowed by the Hamas leadership, is quoted over and over again, like the mistranslation of then-Iranian President Ahmadinejad, and with identical words in both cases, while the actual platform of the Likud Party is never mentioned. The lie that Israel freed Gaza in 2005 is repeated so many times a Gazan might start to believe it.
When Israel broke a ceasefire on the day of the 2008 U.S. elections and then claimed the Palestinians had done so, the facts were available, but the lie was endlessly repeated on U.S. television. We see footage in The Occupation of the American Mind of a European journalist confronting an Israeli official with an Israeli report acknowledging the truth, but nothing like that on U.S. corporate newsertainment networks.
Phrases like “rockets raining down” and “what would you do?” and “what would the U.S. do?” are chanted like mantras. Sadly, we know what the U.S. would do in response to blowback. We know what it has been doing for the past 15 years.
The chief difference in U.S. discourse between propaganda for Israeli wars and for U.S. wars (other than awareness of where the weapons came from — the United States in both cases) is the difference between “anti-American” and “anti-Semitic.” In the film we see Ted Cruz object to criticizing Israel because of the holocaust. Any criticism of Israel is defined as anti-Semitic.
There have been times in U.S. history when any war criticism earned one the title “anti-American.” Currently it is far more likely to earn you the title of “peacenik who would have opposed World War II” — with World War II falsely understood as having been fought for the Jews who in fact the U.S. government refused to allow in and certainly didn’t give a damn about. Thus, advocating civilized conflict resolution in the United States circles back to a charge of “anti-Semitism” as well.
As the corporate media’s dominance crumbles, so potentially does all of this nonsense. And the first to fall may be U.S. support for Israeli wars. That opposition to U.S. wars lags behind among U.S. youth may suggest a certain power to the label of “anti-American” after all, or rather an internalized nationalism that hardly needs name-calling to prop it up. But any failure of war propaganda advances the total failure of war propaganda, if we can keep organizing, keep educating, keep BDSing, keep the internet open, and go watch The Occupation of the American Mind.
David Swanson’s book War Is A Lie: Second Edition will be published April 5, 2016.